“So, how does it feel to be home?”
It has been about a month since my return from Argentina, and I cannot tell you how many times I have been asked this question since arriving in the USA. As simple as this question seems, it is one that I have had a lot of difficulty answering. For one thing, I wasn’t ready to leave Argentina. After living there almost a full 12 months in many ways Argentina had become my home. I had friends, school, activities…a LIFE in the city of Buenos Aires. Packing my bags and suddenly leaving that all behind me was difficult. While I am thrilled to be spending time with friends and family, I miss the hustle and the bustle of the city, tennis lessons at UCA, theater class on Corrientes, and afternoon meriendas with friends. Most of all, I miss speaking Spanish on a daily basis.
The other problem with this question is one of definition. As a 22 year old who has lived abroad and recently graduated, defining “home” itself has become a complicated task. Four years ago when I moved into my dorm on the UW-Madison campus, Madison began to feel more like home than my hometown of Kenosha. Studying abroad has only accelerated this process. While being in the house I grew up in with my family will always feel like home, the city of Kenosha itself no longer feels like home to me. Most of my closest friends have moved away and I have developed a longing to explore the US.
I have also found that a big part of reverse culture shock is feeling like no one understands you. Many have asked me to share stories of my adventures abroad: but how can I explain to people who have never had these experiences how it feels to navigate a city in a foreign language? How funny it is when a friend calls me “Che boluda”? How strongly I desire to move oversees once again? I am not trying to sound pretentious, but study abroad has had a huge effect on my personal growth. I feel like I changed drastically while my hometown is perceived to have stayed the same, and I am struggling to figure out how the new Jenna fits into the old reality.
I found an article online (http://elitedaily.com/life/culture/what-to-know-moving-abroad/1075004/) about some of the difficulties people experience when they move abroad, and I think the author states what I am feeling very eloquently:
“When moving abroad, such an important and large chunk of your life and development is happening elsewhere, that fully identifying with what used to be becomes nearly impossible. Instead, you find a new home in your new country that partially fills the void. However, since you lack roots and history in your new home, you will never, despite your best efforts, fit in 100 percent.”
I think this author’s words do a good job of naming the sense of double alienation I am coping with as a result of living abroad. In Argentina, the most obvious thing about my identity to my Argentine friends was that I was from the United States. No matter how good my Spanish and how well I knew the city, I was and will always be marked as a foreigner. I came to embrace this part of my identity and learned to have fun as the “extranjera.” Being forced to think about my nationality every day also made me realize how proud I am to be an US citizen, although on the flip side it also made me very critical of certain traits of Americans and the United States in general.
When I arrived back in the Midwest one of the first things I noticed was that no one question that I belonged. The difference this time was that I felt like I didn’t belong. I had gone away and retuned to discover that I had changed. This has contributed to a feeling of unrest that I think is some ways is also typical of people of my generation and recent graduates in particular.
My generation is more mobile than any other generation in the past. As a recent graduate, the fact that I want to travel and am willing to relocate is a huge advantage. However, it also makes it difficult to establish a “home” in the old traditional sense of the word. I have accepted the fact that it is very possible that no one place or city may truly fit this old definition for the next couple of years. Luckily, my wanderlust makes this process an exciting one. I feel fortunate to have the means to job search in different cities (and maybe even countries??!) and perhaps one day I may find a place where I want to put down more permanent roots.
In the midst of this ambiguity the one thing that keeps me grounded is my family and friends. I think, for me, home means being where people I love are and is not attached to any particular place. Knowing that my family is behind me, supporting me, and loving me keeps me from getting lost in the vast world that I long to explore.
While I believe that where you grew up has a huge impact on who you are, I am also excited to strike out for something new. Living abroad has reinforced the good Midwestern values I grew up with and has helped me to take pride in who I am and where I come from. However, it has also taught me that I can make a “home” for myself wherever I so choose. In three days, I leave to move to the West Coast. Perhaps I will fall in love with the place and people and make my home there. Perhaps not. In one sense “home” will always be where my family is, but in terms of a place: Wisconsin is home, Madison is home, Argentina is home…I am blessed to have several homes, several places where I feel happy, safe, and loved.
So, how does is feel to be home?
When I figure out where my next “home” is, I will let you know.
P.S. This will be my last blog post. Thank you all for allowing me to share my journey over the past year with you. It has been fun trying to give you a glimpse into my thoughts and experiences.